The Berlusconi era nears an end

By Chris Weir.

On Tuesday, Sinisa Mijhajlovic became the latest victim of the AC Milan madness.

A string of average results meant the Serb became the fourth Milan manager to pack his bags in two years. The Rossoneri look certain to miss out on the UEFA Champions League for a third consecutive year, as youth coach and former player Cristian Brocchi takes up the reigns of another mediocre campaign.

However, the seven-times European champions should look to the top of the food chain to find out how they got into such a rut.

When Silvio Berlusconi bought the club in 1986, it signalled the start of a glorious trophy-laden era. Under Arrigo Sacchi, Milan won their first Scudetto in a decade before winning consecutive European Cups. Later, under Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, they went onto certify their status as the biggest club in Italy, playing some masterful football along the way.

Throughout this glittering period, Berlusconi was always the figurehead. The billionaire, who has a controlling stake in Italy’s largest media organisation Mediaset through his company Fininvest, has always used the AC Milan image as a boon for his political ambitions.

It came as no surprise that the Rossoneri winning the European Cup in May 1994 coincided with Berlusconi’s first of four spells in government as Italy Prime Minister.

Milan’s transfer policy has always fluctuated depending on whether Silvio needs a boost in the polls. For example, the signing of Mario Balotelli in 2013 bumped up his numbers in the Italian election, despite a conviction for fraud less than six months earlier.

It wasn’t the only controversy surrounding the media mogul during his tenure as club President. The former Prime Minister has certainly been busy both inside and outside of the office. Despite various alleged indiscretions, his status at Milan remained largely unaffected. It certainly helped that the club were still winning matches and trophies at that stage, and it goes to show that everything is forgiven as long as the victories keep racking up.

Yet Silvio, the saviour who rescued the club from bankruptcy 30 years ago, now seems the likeliest reason for the club’s current malaise. The sales of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2012 finalised the Rossoneri’s exit from the European elite, as the owner became distracted by his political machinations and funding for transfers subsequently dried up. In times of austerity, the spending of exorbitant fees on transfers may not have been something Italians looked on favourably.

Almost overnight the quality of football in Lombardy went from Prada to Primark. Rossoneri fans were cheering Alessandro Nesta and Rino Gattuso one year, Kevin Constant and Francesco Acerbi the next.

Four years after selling Zlatan and Silva to PSG, Milan continue to suffer from a lack of planning. The failures to replace the departing Clarence Seedorf, Pippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Nesta and co. were compounded by the decision to let Andrea Pirlo go to Juventus on a free transfer.

In 1987, Berlusconi proved he wasn’t afraid to make a managerial appointment from left-field when he called on Arrigo Sacchi, a man with no significant footballing background (as a player, anyway) before getting the job at Milanello. What was once a stroke of genius, however, turned into two acts of folly with the decisions to hire Pippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf as manager.

The latter is particularly bizarre – whilst Inzaghi had some experience with the youth squad, Seedorf was still playing for Botafogo in Brazil when he accepted the call from Milan CEO Adriano Galliani. The results spoke for themselves, as the erudite Seedorf was sacked after four meagre months.

The appointments appeared risky at the time, and shockingly naive in hindsight. Cristian Brocchi will no doubt be making note of the obvious parallels between his signing and of those who’ve already fallen on Berlusconi’s eager sword.

Still, for a while this season it looked like they were on the way up. Milan thrashed cross-town rivals Inter 3-0 in the Madonnina, whilst the emergence of Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks has been a real find. They are in the Italian Cup final and they seemed to have regained a semblance of fight and spirit, despite lacking in creativity.

And then the sacking came. The players are unhappy with Berlusconi’s latest hatchet job, whilst the fans have also voiced their anger at the decision. The president appears increasingly out of touch with his football club, and his irrational management continues to weaken both the team and his own position. 

What next for Milan? As of yet, rumours of investment from Thai magnate Bee Taechaubol haven’t materialised into a real offer – but even if they do, who would be willing to work with Berlusconi given his calamitous leadership of recent years?

Milan fans will always be thankful to the President for the memories. Increasingly however, it seems that this is one leader who has reached the end of his term.

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